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Pod City Crash Course: 19 Music Podcasts That’ll Make You Sing

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve shared podcast “crash courses” in food, TV, cyborgs, what have you. Today I offer a handful of music podcasts that cover lots of ground—hip-hop, indie, classical, classic rock—but all of them enhance my musical knowledge while occasionally inspiring me play the air drums in my Honda.

Enjoy, and holler if you think I missed anything: 

GIMME TUNES!

Podcasts that focus on the songs 

Coverville
With episodes dating back more than a decade, Coverville has been delivering podcasts since the medium emerged. In each ep, host Brian Ibbott shares an assortment of cover songs, usually arranged by a theme. I love how Brian keeps chatter to a minimum and plays each track all the way through, making his show perfect for a long commute, afternoon walk, or background noise while doing the dishes.

All Songs Considered / Tiny Desk Concerts
Anyone looking for a good music podcast could just start with NPR’s podcast directory. My favorite shows are All Songs Considered, in which Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton, and other critics share must-hear new music; and Tiny Desk Concerts, in which up-and-comers make big sounds in a little office space. 

XLR8R
This popular and long-running podcast provides a go-to spot to discover new electronic tunes and DJ mixes. Stick it in your ears at the gym, and you’ll be sweaty ‘n’ smiling in no time. (You can also download individual tunes for free at xlr8r.com.) 

GIMME INTERVIEWS!

Podcasts that emphasize conversation 

KCRW’s Guest DJ Project
How would you tell your life story in five songs? That’s the question this short ‘n’ sweet show poses, spotlighting music picks from folks like Anne Rice, Jonah Hill, and RuPaul. Sometimes, the choices aren’t what you’d expect; for example, actor Jim Parsons’ list includes Bach and Steely Dan. 

The Eddie Trunk Podcast
I’m not a huge metalhead, but I love hearing Trunk share his knowledge of the genre in a very relatable, easy-to-understand way. Fans of his VH1 series, That Metal Show, should enjoy him here, where he often interviews heavy-hitters of metal’s glory days, like Dee Snider and Alice Cooper. 

Ice T: Final Level
I don’t always listen to Ice T’s podcasts from start to finish—the Busta Rhymes ep lasts three hours!—but I always come away from them laughing and learning something about hip-hop’s history-makers. (The Kool Keith episode will crack you up, though use headphones if you listen at work.) 

Turned Out a Punk
Punk fans may want to tune in to this show from host and musician Damian Abraham for interviews and insider chatter. I liked his convos with Tom Scharpling and Sloan’s Chris Murphy, but you should peruse the archive to see which guests strike your fancy. 

Outside the Music Box
I’m a relative newcomer to James Newcomb’s podcast, which focuses on musicians’ creative processes and often spotlights classical and jazz artists. Episodes are intelligent and often surprising; one week he’ll talk about a jazz trumpeter, only to interview a prog rock expert the next. 

The Air-Raid Podcast
What I like about Aaron Roden’s show is that he approaches artists from a fan’s perspective. The Seattle-based host has spoken to Mike McCready, Duff McKagan, Lou Barlow, Mudhoney, and hundreds of other talents, and though he’s always professional, sometimes I can’t help but feel a little nervous for the guy when he meets his ‘80s and ‘90s heroes. 

Mastertapes
Now that the BBC Radio show is between seasons, there’s no better time to catch up with host John Wilson’s interviews with musical greats. On top of live performances, each episode includes an “A-Side” (where Wilson asks the questions) and a “B-Side” (where his studio audience poses the Qs). The Ray Davies episode might be a fun place to start. 

The Patcast
Hosted by Train frontman Pat Monahan, episodes feature freewheeling conversations with a variety of Pat’s pals, mostly musicians. Guests have included big names like Peter Frampton, John Oates, Sammy Hagar, and Paul Stanley, and while interviews can be a bit unstructured, the hook is the part where Monahan performs his guests’ classic songs with them. 

The Cipher
From Nas to KRS-One to Prince Paul, host Shawn Setaro has amassed quite a roster of interviewees. Propelled by his curiosity and hip-hop expertise—Setaro is the former editor-in-chief of Rap Genius—his conversations go deeper than most other shows. 

WTF with Marc Maron
Perhaps it’s an obvious choice, but some of Maron’s conversations with musicians are worth revisiting. At this point, he has talked to quite a few, including Iggy Pop, Chrissie Hynde, Kim Gordon, and “Weird Al” Yankovic. 

GIMME CRITICS!

Podcasts with expert opinions 

Sound Opinions
I’m a longtime listener of this WBEZ radio show, in which Chicago’s most prominent music critics, Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis, discuss and debate music news, trends, bands, and anything else on their radar. This recent episode offers an excellent crash course in jazz, and in January they conducted a standout interview with Mary J. Blige. 

The New York Times’s Popcast
Yep, even the Gray Lady has a podcast, and each week its critics spotlight emerging artists, notable albums, and notable headlines. Themes have ranged from the TV show Empire to Madonna to “the artistic value of music festivals.” The thread that connects each ep is the hosts’ expertise and analytical, yet accessible, approach. 

GIMME STORIES!

Podcasts with great tales to tell

Pitch
Want to hear fascinating and lesser-known music stories? Pitch is the place. My favorite episode involves how the “longbox” packaging for R.E.M.’s Out of Time changed the music industry, but the archive offers two seasons of coolness to choose from. 

Thanks for Giving a Damn
This podcast from singer-songwriter Otis Gibbs just keeps getting better. The Nashville-based musician unlocks Music City’s secret history by talking with session musicians, journalists and experts about things you rarely hear about in mainstream publications. Start with this story about Paul McCartney’s time in Nashville or the riveting “Stringbean’s Last Song.” 

Song Exploder
Each detailed, beautifully produced episode allows musicians to share how one of their songs came together. The show allows us to hear tunes with fresh ears, and it does a good job of blending familiar artists with up-and-coming ones. My Morning Jacket, the National, Spoon, and Garbage have all been featured. My pick: The ep about a Ghostface Killah track

GIMME EVERYTHING!

A podcast with all of the above

Who Charted?
Ask me to name my favorite podcast—and I listen to dozens upon dozens of them—and, without hesitation, I’ll say Who Charted?. Each Wednesday hosts Howard Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack discuss a random music chart with a special guest. (On Fridays the hosts create their own charts that usually feature new tunes.) The result is funny, compelling, and endlessly informative, though the key to its success is the connection Kremer and Vilaysack forge with their fans. At this point, I feel like I know these two better than some of my own relatives.

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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